There seems to be no end to the controversy over power of traditional chiefs in Meghalaya, especially in Khasi-Jaintia region. Since the Meghalaya High Court order stripping the headmen of their power to issue various certificates, there have been a number of rallies, protests, shutdowns, shrikes, discussions and decisions. Yet the stalemate persists. The last nail in the coffin was another HC order that asked the state government to make legislations for traditional bodies having uniform sets of law for themselves. The HC observed that traditional bodies can no more have separate laws (or customs) as there had been from time immemorial. While the traditional bodies are furious at the court order and took it as an insult to their customary practices, the government remained cautious it its approach.

The one thing that is permanent in this world is, change. All our customs and traditional practices do not exist and never will. There will be change, always. There will be new rules, customs. This is how the world functions. Just like instead of writing letter on the paper we are used to sending e-mails, SMS, WhatsApp message etc., changes are bound to come in systems of governance as well. Women were given voting rights in most of the countries, including the US, only in the last century. The Pope in Vatican City is still elected by an all-male College of Cardinals. In United Arab Emirates, which has the world-class cities like Dubai and Abu Dhabi, men and women have limited voting rights. Saudi Arabia is still a kingdom with no voting rights except for local bodies since 2005 and women had the suffrage only in 2015. All these too will change, one day, for the better.

Uniform law for traditional bodies is essential in view of their involvement in various government schemes. The state government and the autonomous district councils are liable to answer to the Central for every single penny spent on public affairs. A uniform set of norms for all the traditional bodies in the state would help things move smoother, for the benefit of the public. The logic given by those opposing the HC order that only the ADC can make laws for the traditional bodies does not hold water. Given there are three ADCs in the state, one ADC cannot make norm for another ADC. At this juncture, the state government’s response towards this order will be significant. If it goes by political considerations, as has been the trend always, interest of the general public is going to suffer in the long run.

(Published as editorial in The Meghalaya Guardian on January 22, 2015)

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